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IN a normal year, Sydney can hardly cram enough cruise ships to its harbor. Australians are among the most enthusiastic marine tourists in the world and the city’s famous Circular Quay doubles as a watery parking lot. No longer. Australia, like some other countries that are afraid of being infected, wants to cut them off. “New South Wales is not a safe place for any cruise ship,” the state police chief, Mick Fuller, grumbled recently. They have become “one of the biggest frustrations of my life”, complained the prime minister of Western Australia, Mark McGowan.
The atmosphere deteriorated after a spectacular stump involving Princess Ruby—A ship owned by Carnival, the largest cruise ship company in the world. Dozens of passengers, mostly Australians, experienced flu-like symptoms while on a floating tour in New Zealand last month. But when the ship returned to Sydney on March 19, all 2,700 of them were allowed to roam homes throughout the country. More than 660 since tested positive for Covid-19 and 12 died, making it a “ship of death”, as referred to by local tabloids, the largest source of 6,000 new cases of corona virus in Australia.
Criminal investigation into the dock is now underway. State and federal authorities accuse each other of failing to conduct proper health checks. “The key question”, according to Mr. Fuller, is whether Carnival is “transparent” in “contextualizing the actual health conditions of patients and crew”. Several shipping companies lied about the health of their ships, said Peter Dutton, the interior minister, who was in the process of recovering from the virus itself.
In theory, Australia closed its waters to cruise ships before Princess Ruby arrived, but exceptions were made for Australian and transit ships. Some have since dropped off their passengers, but continue to roam in or near Australian ports, each with hundreds of crew members. This has led to complaints that sick crew members may, as one expert put it, “take a bed that Australians can use”. Letting them stay “can have a disastrous effect on the Australian health system”, Michael Outram agreed, who heads the Australian Border Force. So on April 4 the government ordered the ships to weigh the anchors and head for their “home” port.
For some that seems impossible, and not just because they are registered in places as far away as Panama or the Bahamas. That Princess Ruby, which has stopped in New South Wales since its passengers descended, was attacked. More than 200 of the 1,400 strong crew showed symptoms of covid-19. He has been allowed to sleep in a port in southern Sydney so doctors can treat them. Some of his most vulnerable patients have been sent to Australian hospitals.
In Western Australia, German ships, ships Artania, has expressly ignored the marching order. He arrived at the port of Fremantle last month with a plague on board. More than 50 passengers have been treated at the nearest hospital. Most of the rest have been flown back to their home countries, but 450 or more permanent crew members. The state government wanted them to leave (at one point Mr McGowan suggested that the navy could be used to drive the ship away), but the captain was worried about their health on the high seas. Australia has a “humanitarian obligation” to the ship, acknowledged the country’s attorney general, Christian Porter. “Artania will stay here at Fremantle,” the captain insisted.
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